Social media can have many great uses for athletes. You can keep up with latest advice and research on your sport or training, you can catch up with friends and their news even when you are training and working too many hours to see them in person and it can keep you entertained in your downtime when your body needs to rest and recover.
But, social media can also be a minefield if you find yourself comparing your training to others, you see trolling direct messages which distract you from your performance, or in the heat of a moment you don’t think through what you are tweeting and say something crass, rude or disrespectful. From researching some of the biggest social media screw ups by athletes we have found the top 10 reasons why athletes get in trouble over social media.
- Forgetting anyone can see what you are writing
Not an athlete but a really good reminder from a girl who had just been offered a new job and tweeted: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” Not surprisingly the IT company were hot on checking their mentions on twitter and the job offer was retracted.
- Ignoring your privilege
Ian Poulter, the golfer, complained on twitter about his wife having to look after their four children on a flight in business class without the help of their nanny whose seat had been downgraded. He was accused of being out of touch with people highlighting that his Twitter profile picture was of six sports cars parked outside his multi-million pound Florida home. The digs he got back were substantial including one from Joseph Fink who summed up how many felt with : “Our thoughts are with @IanJamesPoulter in these dark times.”
- Showing disrespect for your sport
Ian Poulter (who clearly needs a lesson in social media reputation protection) posted videos online of himself and his children eating cereal out of the Ryder Cup. Ouch.
- Showing disrespect for others
During the 2012 Olympics Michel Morganella, a Swiss soccer player, sent a racist tweet about the Korean soccer team. He was expelled from the team and forced to miss the remainder of the Olympics. Greek Triple jumper Voula Papachristou also got kicked off the Greek 2012 Olympic team for twitter posts mocking African immigrants and Retweeting a politician from a far-right party.
Only this week Burney striker Andre Grey was banned for four matches and fined £25k for homophobic tweets he sent. The tweets were actually sent four years ago when he played for a non-league club. Which highlights that your online footprint is never washed away.
- Having your partners weighing in on an argument
Cycling partners are clearly a very defensive bunch. When Lizzie Armistead was dealing with criticisms around missing three doping tests just before the Rio Olympics one of her main rivals, the French cyclist Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, tweeted that the decision to let her ride was shameful and that the rules should be the same for everyone. Armitstead’s fiancé (now husband) Philip Deignan replied by accusing the Frenchwoman of having an affair with a married man with children.
The other-halves of Cyclists Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins also got into a twitter spat in the 2012 Tour de France. When Froome was ordered to slow down to allow Wiggins to catch up and retain the overall lead, Froome’s girlfriend, Michelle Cound tweeted: ‘Teamwork is also about giving the people around you, that support you, a chance to shine in their own right.’ Mrs Wiggins shot back a response which praised other members of the Sky Team for ‘genuine, selfless effort and true professionalism’ – but omitted Froome. Then Peta Todd, Mark Cavendish’s wife weighed in tweeting about Froome: ‘You are a little bit special. Legend.’ No mention was made of Wiggins.
- Public spats with team mates
In 2015 when Mo Farah fell out with fellow runner Andy Vernon for implying he was ‘a Plastic Brit’ the gloves were off. Farah was about to race at the Sainsbury’s Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham and Vernon tweeted: “Another stellar field against Mo Farah on home turf this weekend at Birmingham. #joke”. Farah responded: “Shame you didn’t make the line up….again #ComeBackWhenYouWinSomethingDecent”. Vernon replied: “Lol Mo Farah I think even you can work out that I can make the cut to the Indoor Grand Prix. Lets hope no one loses their shoe…” Farah’s response: “I wish you did make the cut mate so I can leave you in my dust like ALWAYS!! hahahaha #hatersgonnahate”. Refering to Farah’s ‘hatersgonnahate’ hashtag, Vernon wrote: “1) stop quoting Taylor Swift. 2) I don’t hate you Mo. I would just rather watch a race than the the Mo Show. #playersgonnaplay.” Farah then posted: “that’s why they didn’t put you in the race mate.. Cos you’re an embarrassment!! Taylor swift can probably run faster than you!” Great fun for fans to follow on twitter but didn’t do either athlete any favours and caused them both unnecessary stress.
- Tweeting when angry over selection
Long jumpers Greg Rutherford and Chris Tomlinson had a twitter fight after only one could be chosen for an international competition. Greg Rutherford got the spot and didn’t even make the final. Tomlinson tweeted: “Words can’t describe my anger. Season ruined on media profile & not current athletic form. Thanks for the support from the athletics community.” After apologising to fans for not making the final Rutherford added his own dig at Tomlinson: “Oh and to the trolls… Imagine a picture of my bum hole. I’m waving it at you.” Nice.
- Making inappropriate jokes
If commenting on news stories athletes really need to know they have the final facts. Breaking story comments can be risky for anyone, as can making jokes. Kevin Pietersen the cricketer really fell short here. He sent a tweet commenting on an article about two South African stowaways who had come on a plane from South Africa saying “Captain and Opening Bowler in England’s WC cricket team in 2019.” He then read the actual article to see one of the stowaways had died as he fell on a roof of a building from the plane and the other was fighting for his life.
- Responding to criticisms
When day in, day out, you get fans, critics, journalists and former players on social media goading you it can be incredibly hard for athletes not to bite back. But this very rarely goes well and often it is the athlete who comes off worst. In Kevin Pietersen’s case (yup – again) he was fined for criticising Sky commentator Nick Knight on Twitter. He’d tweeted: Can somebody please tell me how Knight has worked his way into the commentary box for Tests? Ridiculous.” It was agreed his remarks were prejudicial to ECB interests and a breach of England conditions of employment.”
During the 2015 World Cup James Haskell got into a row with Neil Back who tweeted before a world cup match: “Don’t take your selfie stick out onto the pitch before the game like you did against @fijirugby on 18th Sept. Across a number of tweets Haskell replied: “I wasn’t even playing” You’re so old and out of touch your eyes don’t work. I hope ur book sales go better than your coaching. Explain how me recording a once in a lifetime event detrimental. You were one of my childhood heroes, yet your general negativity towards myself & the team is appalling.” “You talk about my self promotion yet u have released a sensationalist book just to make cash. That’s all I have to say on this. Rule No1 never meet your heroes.”
- Forgetting you are an ambassador for your sponsors
Finally, as Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and Ryan Lochte have all found to their cost, poor behaviour will quickly lose you sponsors. Poor behaviour on social media amplifies the athlete’s issues as their own words spread so quickly and no amount of crisis PR can fix things for them. Steph Rice, the Australian swimmer, tweeted a homophobic statement after watching a match. She lost a lucrative endorsement deal with Jaguar.